It was a good night to get engaged.
The moon was full. The candles lit. And Lucy Wiltshire wore a new black sheath that would have made Audrey Hepburn jealous. Her friends might say it was just another old find from the secondhand shop, but Lucy had known from the moment she’d spied the dress that it had been something more. Found on a tightly crammed rack between an avocado peacoat and an acid-washed denim skirt that had seen one too many Bon Jovi concerts, the dress had just called out to her. Buy me. I’m yours. We belong together.
And buy it she did. Despite the fact that the bodice was a bit tight, and she’d had to let out the waist a few inches, the dress just felt right. It made Lucy want to twirl in her tiny kitchen, letting her kitten heels slide across the gray tile floor.
It was the perfect outfit to wear when getting proposed to. She had dreamed of this day since she was six and had thrown a wedding for Barbie. And now her own Ken doll was four feet away, acting nervous as a man with marriage on his mind and a solitaire in his pocket.
Matthew tugged his navy tie loose and sat down at the kitchen table. “Good day?” Lucy asked, as she put some garlic bread in the oven, humming to herself.
“It was fine.” His voice was distracted, his focus on the stack of mail she had yet to move. “What’s this?” He held up a gold embellished card.
She glanced his way then quickly turned back to the oven. “It’s nothing.”
“It looks like a class reunion invitation. I thought you didn’t graduate in Charleston.”
Her childhood in South Carolina was the last thing she wanted to discuss tonight. Or ever. “Obviously it’s a mistake on someone’s part.” Or a cruel joke. The daughter of a maid, Lucy had been on the very bottom of the social food chain at the elite Montrose Academy. Her mother had cleaned the homes of her classmates. And they had never let her forget Lucy wasn’t one of them. But now, back in Charleston, life couldn’t be sweeter.
“Or maybe they just want to see you.”
Lucy sat down and stared at the man who had asked her out one year ago today. Matt’s fingers drumming next to his plate seemed out of sync for someone who was normally as calm as a morning sunrise. She adored his predictability. His sandy-blond hair always parted to the left. His white shirts starched and perfectly creased in the sleeves.
The timer over the stove dinged, and Lucy jumped up to take out the bread. “I hope you’re hungry. I made your favorites.”
Lucy threw the bread in a basket and placed it on the table. Grabbing his plate, she loaded it with her homemade noodles, her own secret-recipe marinara sauce, and a salad—easy on the dressing, just like he liked. Lucy could envision them sitting together thirty years from now, sharing a meal and talking about their day.
“Maybe you should go to the reunion.” Matt neatly placed his napkin in his lap. “If you’re wanting to start that girls’ home, you’re going to need to rub elbows with as many people in the community as you can.”
Lucy watched him as she sat down. “I’ll get the funding from somewhere else. That’s what federal grants are for. And besides, it’s the same night as your award ceremony.”
Matt was going to be honored for his charity work with senior citizens. An accountant, he had donated countless hours helping the older folks in Charleston with their taxes and providing free financial counseling. Every day she gave God a big “thank you” for sending Matt her way. He was . . . perfect.
He called his mother twice a week. He led a Bible study and played on a baseball league at church. He read autobiographies and watched CNBC. The guy drove a Volvo. What more could she ask for?
“Lucy?” Matt’s face was taut as he reached for her hand.
This was it. She was going to become Mrs. Matthew Campbell. She hoped her lip gloss was still on. And where had she put that camera? If any occasion called for a “extend arm and take your own photo,” this was it.
He swallowed and folded his fingers over hers. “I have something I need to talk to you about.”
Her vision blurred with unshed tears. They would have a boy and a girl. They’d name the girl Anna, after her mother. He could name the boy. It didn’t really matter to her. As long as it wasn’t Maynard. After that uncle he liked so much.
“Lucy, we’ve been together a while now.”
“A year,” she said. “Our first date was a year today.” Which was all part of his thoughtful plan.
His grip loosened on her hand. “And it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed our time together. And I think you are one incredible person.”
Matt reached into his pocket.
The ring. He was going for the ring. Marquis, pear, princess, round—she didn’t care.
“Matt”—Lucy sniffed—“I want you to know I’m so happy God put you in my life and—”
He opened his hand.
And placed a business card on the table.
Lucy’s pink lips clamped tight. Those were not wedding bells pealing in her head right now.
“What is this?” She picked up the card. “Matthew Campbell, senior accountant, Digby, Wallace, and Hinds?”
His smile was hesitant. “I got a job offer.”
“Offer?” She ran her finger over his embossed name. “Looks like you’ve already progressed beyond that. When were you going to tell me?”
“I’ve tried.” He pushed his plate aside. “You’ve just been so busy with the shelter.”
“Residential home,” she corrected. “Saving Grace is a residential home.”
“You’ve been so occupied with getting that started, I haven’t been able to get your attention lately.”
“You’ve got it now.” Something was very wrong here. “What’s going on? I’ve never heard of these people. Are they new?”
His green eyes focused on the candle in the center of the table. “No. They’re quite old, in fact. Very prestigious.”
“And where are they old and prestigious?” She couldn’t relocate. He knew that. Not with mere months before Saving Grace opened. Was he going to move—without her?
Lucy’s heart fell somewhere to the vicinity of her shoes. “When are you leaving?”
He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Lucy.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that.”
“I think we’ve been moving too fast.”
Lucy thought of the bridal magazines under her bed. “Then let’s slow it down. I’m okay with that. I think if we just—”
“I’m leaving next week. This is an opportunity I can’t pass up.” He spoke low and patiently, as if talking to a child. “I think we need to take a break. My relocating is the perfect opportunity to give ourselves some space and see what happens.”
The white-picket fence was collapsing before her. Was it too much to ask, God? Was it too much to want a family of my own? To finally have that home? For the first time in her life, she had let herself believe she could have it all.
Her laugh sounded pitiful and strained. “Can you believe”— tears clogged her throat—“that I thought you were going to propose tonight?”
Matt stood up, walked over to her, and kissed her forehead. “I think I should probably go.”
She grabbed his hand as he leaned away. “Is it me?” Because wasn’t it always her?
Reaching out, he pushed a stray curl behind her ear. “No. I know you’re ready for a permanent commitment, but I have to put my career first now—whether I want to or not.”
The smells in the room—the food, her life decaying—made her want to throw up. “I could wait, you know. We could do the long distance thing.”
“I’m sorry.” He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. “For what it’s worth, I believe you’re the right girl—it’s just not the right time.”
Two minutes later Lucy stood in her living room and watched Matt drive away.
No ring. No engagement.
No happily ever after.
She walked upstairs to her bedroom.
Sucked it in as she unzipped the Audrey Hepburn dress.
Peeled it off her body.
And threw it out the window.